The first part of December has fit into the weather patterns as seen in October and November. Each of these months started off with temperatures that were above — sometimes far above — normal.
Indeed, both October and November posted record-setting temperatures early in the month. Besides having these readings above usual, each of these autumn months were dry, with limited precipitation.
If these conditions sound familiar, it is because December has been following a similar temperature and precipitation patterns. December has begun warmer than normal with little precipitation. Even as we now approach the winter solstice, snowfall in this month has been limited.
A recent Weather Service map of snow cover for the state revealed much of Minnesota is without snow on the ground. Thanks to snows of mid-November, the northeast does have some snow cover.
Temperatures in the second half of November did drop enough to produce a freeze-up. Some lakes froze over by the 20th, only to have a melt and a return to freezing late in the month. I noticed ice anglers taking up their activity in early December.
With mild temperatures fluctuating between above freezing in the afternoons and below freezing at night, the ice conditions on area lakes have been a bit hard to determine. However, I noticed the local wildlife that share these conditions with us were venturing on lake surfaces in recent weeks. The lack of snow on the ice and previous freeze-thaw cycle made for some strange tracks and ice conditions.
Ice without a snow cover on regional lakes happens about every year for a short period of time, but usually this ice is also covered by snow. This year, the bare ice has remained for a couple weeks — cold enough for ice to form, too dry for snow. And with no snow cover, ice skaters went for their winter activity — ironically, something not common here.
It wasn’t much, but we did get a light snow coating on the ice in the past week ago. I went out to see if tracks were recorded. (Snow on ice is perhaps the best place to observe animal tracks at this time of year.) And yes, as I stepped along the edge of the swamp and lake, I noticed how mink, squirrels, voles (field mice — quite common in swamps), foxes, coyotes, raccoons, hare and even a crow did some wandering here. Like me, all left tracks revealing slipping and sliding, but none like the deer.
Deer tracks were plentiful in the nearby woods, but they seemed to avoid the lake ice. I did, however, find where a couple adventurous ones stepped onto the hard slippery surface.
The light snow cover told of their sliding, loss of balance and quick movements to regain their stature. At the two sites that I found, these deer showed that hooves, so good in the woods, are not as agile on the ice. In each case, the slipping deer appeared to do a bit of a dance before regaining composure and quickly moving back to terra firma.
I wonder if these icing deer learned a lesson to stay off the ice for a while longer. I expect the weather pattern that we are in will give us more snow and I plan to do much more tracking on the swamp and lake.